209 - Sipsey River Trail
Moderate - Difficult.
This long trail crosses and follows the Sipsey (Fork of the Black Warrior
River). This one has it all - flowing and falling water, rocks, bluffs,
wildflowers, camping, hiking challenges - definitely one of the best trails
in the Wilderness, though it requires a little effort.
The trail begins and ends entirely within the Wilderness and can be hiked with
equal pleasure in either direction. This description will arbitrarily start
from the western side.
The first half mile descends a steep and usually wet slope to the river which
then must be forded. The water level can be anything from ankle- to neck-deep
and the water temperature in winter can be in the 50ís Fahrenheit.
Not surprisingly, many hikers skip this part of the trail and just take it up
from the other side of the river.
For those interested in the short western portion,
the Randolph Trailhead
provides the closest access. Follow
trail 201 - Rippey for some two and a half miles to
where it ends and meets 209 (and 206). Turn right. The hill down to the river
is quite steep and can be slippery when wet, its usual condition except during
periods of Exceptional Drought.
Letís suppose you are on the other side of the river one way or the other.
This point can be reached by land from the
Follow trail 206 - Thompson Creek for about three miles
until it turns back towards the river. Keep going straight along the Sipsey
and you end up on 209 after about a half mile.
Why does the trail swerve like this? This section of the Wilderness is
actually private land. It is owned by the Rippey family and there is a cabin
up on the ridge. It is perfectly okay for hikers to tread this well-worn path
but itís another thing for the Forest Service to route an official trail there.
So trails 206 and 209 have these little diversions.
East of the river, 209 meanders south and then more or less east for another
mile and a half to East Bee Branch. Like most of this trail, the terrain is
not especially flat but has no serious changes in altitude. What can be
challenging at times are the numerous streams and rivulets that feed into the
river. Most can be just stepped over but the banks can be treacherous.
Some crossings are bridged by fallen trees, providing help for those with a
sense of balance.
East Bee Branch feeds into the Sipsey. Its canyon is about three-quarters of
a mile long, quite spectacular at the end with waterfalls, bluffs, caves, and
the Sipsey Wildernessí greatest hit, the
Big Tree. This is a popular destination and
numerous campsites surround this area.
Shortly past East Bee Branch is the junction of 209 with the south end of
trail 204 - Bee Ridge. Trail 209 continues easterly
for another mile and then turns south, meeting
trail 202 - Randolph after about a half mile.
There is another large campsite at this juncture on both sides of the
river. From 202, you have about three miles to go.
Past the 202 junction, 209 continues south but soon turns to the
east-southeast which is its direction for the remainder of the trail except
for a quarter-mile adjustment north at one point. Another large campsite,
popular with groups, is not too far west of that northerly twist.
About a half-mile before the end will put you at one of the better waterfalls
in the Wilderness,
Falls Creek Falls.
The 2007 drought reduced the flow to a
trickle but even so, this is quite the scenic spot. The bluffs to the west
along the trail ainít so shabby either.
Trail 209 ends at the confluence of Borden Creek with the Sipsey.
From here, you can get to the
by crossing the creek and following the river south for a half mile.
But you have to cross the water which presents the same issues as at the
western end. Alternatively, follow the unofficial but well-trodden
West Borden trail for two miles along the
west side of Borden Creek up to the bridge adjoining the
Which way you go depends mainly on where you have parked and if you would
rather walk or swim.
Trail 209 sports numerous campsites with several larger ones as noted above.
Water is readily available from the river and finding a flat spot is not all
that difficult. Be aware that this is one of the most popular trails and
campsites are first-come-first-served. Donít expect to come traipsing in at
5 PM on a beautiful Saturday in October and find your ideal spot unoccupied.